A Community of Heart Profile: Tri Iswardana Sadatun



The district of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam is located in northern Sumatra and possesses one of Indonesia’s largest reserves of natural gas and oil. This has resulted in conflict between the residents of Aceh and their government over wealth, and cultural and religious freedom. On December 26, 2004, this conflict, a devastating earthquake, followed by a catastrophic tsunami overshadowed this conflict. A ceasefire was declared as all struggled to respond to the devastation. Two women, Tri Iswardani Sadatun (Dani) and Shinto Sukirna, heard about the healing effects of EMDR and requested help from our EMDR community. This column introduces Dani and the next column will profile Shinto.

Dani was born in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, to Sadatun Suryoharjo, a surgeon and professor at University of Indonesia, and her homemaker mother, Kusdiani Sediono. With parents who encouraged learning athletics, and responsibility, at 14, Dani took up gliding and aerobatic flight, while also expected to look after her 4 younger brothers and sisters. As a result of these experiences, she became a keen observer, effective leader, and compassionate caretaker of those more vulnerable than she. After high school, she was admitted to the Developmental Psychology program at the University of Indonesia. However, a conflict was growing inside her between her thirst for knowledge and her wanting to fly beyond the constraints of her known environment into the unknown. With the agreement that she would return to complete her degree, her father allowed her to attend the Boardman Flying School in Fort Worth, Texas to become a pilot. She earned her private pilot’s (PPL) and later her commercial pilot’s license (CPL) while she worked part time as a tow pilot at the Federation of Aero Sport, Indonesia.

She returned to Indonesia, married and had children before she went back to work on her degree. When she completed her degree, she began teaching at her university and did clinical work and research. Her developmental perspective was useful in informing her understanding of the society in which she lived. She understood that working with all aspects of the community on an issue from the individual, to groups, to agencies and ultimately with government officials was crucial to a healthy functioning environment. She worked with juvenile delinquents, and conducted parenting groups. Since 1990, she was a lecturer at the Academy of Corrective Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Law and Human Rights for the Republic of Indonesia where she trained prison officers about psychology in prison, developmental and criminal psychology and how to do research. Her network now includes most of the Indonesian Directors of prisons as they were all her students! In 2002, she became the Director of the Department of Criminal Psychology and on the Faculty of Post Graduate Applied Psychological Study at her university and, in 2004, published “Psychology of Criminal Behavior” for the Department of Law and Human Rights Republic of Indonesia.

In 1995, Dani completed her MA in Psychology. She assisted in the development of “Masyarakat Anti Narkoba” (Drug Free Society), a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Jakarta. She became the head of this organization in 1999 and added an Aftercare program that ran until 2003. Also, in 1999, Dani became the Director of a School-Based Drug Prevention Working Group for the Department of Education for the Republic of Indonesia and in 2000 wrote “School Based Drug Abuse Prevention and Management Program. Through the confluence of all her skills and interests, Dani developed a new subject called the “Psychology of Drug Addiction”; more than 100 students attended instead of the usual 30, because of the frequency of drug and alcohol use in families. She asked her students to do research in this area and create informational brochures, films, posters and t-shirts for a Drug-Free Society. When drug and alcohol addictions changed to include other forms of addiction such as internet, game and sex and love addictions, Dani changed the name of her course to “Psychology of Addiction” and applied her knowledge of drug addictions to these other addictions by using the following: Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy. Dani is a Consultant to the National Narcotic Board for Indonesia, trains other mental health professionals in this field and has written many books about the subject such as “Standard Operating Procedure for Psychologists in Substance Abuse Treatment” (2007), “Manual for Social Workers: Psychological Services in Community Base Units and One Stop Centers” (2008), and “Psychosocial Approach in Substance Abuse Treatment” (2009).

Dani’s knowledge of developmental psychology resulted in a contract with the magazine, “Parent’s Guide”, “Ayahbunda”, to travel all over Indonesia talking about these different developmental issues. From 1996-2000, she became the 2 nd Deputy Dean for Administration and Finance for the Faculty of Psychology.

In 2004, as Dani was returning from her second Haj to Mecca, she heard about the earthquake and tsunami. Her university was asked to send assistance and she volunteered. At first, the goal was to make the survivors comfortable. She brought donations from friends, relatives and anyone who would contribute and gave it to the people of Aceh. While there, she drew on all that she knew such as crisis psychology and “prana”-energy, chanting and Reiki practices. Formal therapy was difficult as there was no private place to go and survivors were not ready to enter therapy sessions.

In 2005, Dani began working with the group “Post-Traumatic Relief and Management for Aceh Children (victims of the tsunami disaster)” and became the Assistant Program Manager of the NGO “Yayasan Nuraini” (to help survivors of the tsunami disaster overcome economic and psychosocial consequences). In the same year, the Goethe Institute in Germany sent sociologists Ute Soddemann and Peter Bumke to do a needs’ assessment in the area affected by the tsunami. Their report became the publication, “The Sound of the Winds: Survey on the Psychosocial Condition and the Problems of Children Affected by the Tsunami in the Province of Aceh, Indonesia” (Sodemann, Iswardani, & Adelar, 2006). With Dr. Sodemann, Dani went to a “Terre des Hommes” meeting and presented their findings. This resulted in a proposal to conduct a Psychosocial Trauma Treatment for the Children and Families of Aceh. The German Department of Finance (BMZ) gave full funding through the Indonesian Psychology Association and the program began in 2006.

EMDR training was part of the 3-pronged approach of the project: capacity building, psychology service, and mental health training for mental health professionals. EMDR came under the heading of capacity building. Ute and Peter had heard about the EMDR Institute in Germany run by Arne Hofmann. Dani and Shinto began their EMDR training and became EMDR Trainers 2008.

Traumatology training began in by Arne and Helga Matthess began in 2007. Fourteen Indonesian mental health practitioners from the Aceh project and 16 others attended the first training. By 2008, they had completed the EMDR basic training. Currently, Dani supervises 10 practitioners, once a month.

Work with the people of Aceh was a learning experience and trainings were modified to support their needs and cultural and religious beliefs. The people of Aceh were stereotyped often as “stiff and lazy”; however, like most stereotypes, as practitioners began to know the people instead of the stereotype, this was proven false. Due to cultural and religious mores, the people –especially the men- hide their emotions so Dani and Shinto realized they needed more time to build rapport. They conducted longer sessions (60-90 minutes) to ensure time to catch up and keep rapport and to close down the sessions ecologically. Since Indonesians seldom reflect on themselves, eliciting a negative cognition is difficult. Practitioners accommodated to this by taking more time and/or giving a suitable list of examples. Auditory and tacscan devices were used in addition to eye movements because of cultural concerns over proximity and touch. Women often came in first as men thought it was weak to do so. However, when people heard about the success of EMDR, more people came.

New stabilization techniques were interspersed with standard ones to support the clients. The following resources were used: Safe Place, Resource Activation and Installation, Light Stream Technique, Dzikir Stabilization Technique / Sound Vibration Calming Technique, and Dzikir Energy Visualization Technique / Dzikir Energy Channeling Technique.

Due to the conflicts before the catastrophes, targets included issues of violence, dysfunctional beliefs and images from the tsunami. Since there is often violence in the family trans-generationally, these targets needed to be addressed too. It was important to address somatic complaints as they often masked other issues. In order that clients not experience EMDR as magic, clinicians emphasized that. “EMDR is a natural healing process that it is in the brain – like how a scratch heals.”

The project will be completed by the end of 2009 and was extended to include more people living in Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Burma. By 2009, there have been more than 5 EMDR trainings and 100 Indonesian practitioners trained.

To the EMDR community Dani would like to say the following:

“With my own eyes, I see that EMDR frees people from suffering. Although, we think we can stand living with suffering, through our work with EMDR, we learned it is important that we let clients know suffering is not necessary. It is important that they finish life in peace, not just survival. God wants everyone to be happy. It is not something we have to be scared about. If we do EMDR properly, we can bring them to that level.”

To Francine:

“I think that you never thought EMDR would come to these secluded, remote areas. I want you to know that it works here. What we have found is that this method is universal; it is for humanity!”

Dani also works in the intensive care wards in the hospital. She teaches the patient’s family how to chant and you can see the patients’ positive responses while on life support machines. As a result, more physicians refer their dying patients and Dani helps these patients using EMDR.

Dani is married with 3 children. They have four grandchildren and are awaiting their fifth. She enjoys cooking, reading, travelling, and nature. How lucky we are to have this gifted, talented and compassionate woman in our midst.


“A Community of Heart Profile: Tri Iswardana Sadatun,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed July 15, 2024, https://francineshapirolibrary.omeka.net/items/show/7681.

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